A major national police-community partnership event this weekend needs to be made secular and inclusive, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting.
Faith and Blue, which is promoted by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the U.S. Department of Justice, says its mission is to “build neighborhoods where everyone feels safe and included” and contends that “faith-based organizations are key to building these bonds.”
Each year since the Faith and Blue initiative began in 2020, FFRF has received complaints from its members as well as members of the public about their local law enforcement agencies promoting religion at these events. Faith and Blue events often include religious activity that exclude the nonreligious, demonstrating the danger of governmental partnerships with faith-based groups.
Here are just a few examples of religious endeavors inappropriate for publicly sponsored events that have occurred as part of “Faith and Blue.”
The only activity scheduled for this Sunday in Dover, Del., as part of Faith and Blue is an invitation for the community to join Dover police officers and city officials “in an afternoon of fellowship in worship” at local churches. Its flier for the event proclaims that “we are strongest when together, we believe!” implying that nonbelievers are not contributors to a strong community. Faithandblue.org actually promotes this worship event on its website.
In 2020, the Greenville, S.C., Sheriff’s Office put out a video for Faith and Blue weekend in which the sheriff shared his personal religious views: “There is no doubt that we live in uncertain times. But one thing is certain, and that’s the love that Jesus Christ has for each one of us. . . . Remember that God is in control.”
And a Detroit police chaplain used the department’s 2020 Faith and Blue event to broadcast a prayer from a patrol vehicle’s loudspeaker, coercing all in the vicinity to listen to a government-sponsored prayer: “In the name of Jesus Christ, Father, we need you to go into each and every house, Father, and loosen those handcuffs, in the name of Jesus Christ . . . we’re praying for your protection.”These types of incidents crossing the constitutional line are inevitable when the federal government encourages law enforcement agencies to put on a “Faith” event, FFRF contends.
“There is no reason to single out faith-based organizations over other important community groups for their own weekend of partnerships with local law enforcement,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Department of Justice Acting Director Robert Chapman. “And, under our Establishment Clause and vaunted separation of church and state, there is every reason not to sponsor or promote an event that is undoubtedly going to create confusion about those boundaries, and appears to place ‘Faith’ on an exalted plane.”
FFRF is urging that this annual program include all community organizations, not just faith-based ones, and that the word “Faith” should be deleted in the event name to make it clear that these are intended to be secular events. The Department of Justice COPS program must take immediate action to prevent future constitutional violations stemming from Faith and Blue events nationwide, FFRF is insisting ahead of the events planned this weekend.
FFRF, noting that almost a third of the population today identifies as “atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular,” adds: “Minority religious and nonreligious citizens should not be made to feel excluded, or like outsiders in their own community, because the city governments, sheriff’s offices and police departments that they support with their taxes put on a religious event and encourage members of the public to participate in church services, prayer or other religious activities.”
You can read the letter in its entirety here.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 38,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.